Musicians 4x More Likely to Lose Hearing

Hearing loss. It’s a sad truth realized by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, who after years of acting as lead singer for the band, was recently warned by doctors that he risked “total hearing loss” if he didn’t immediately discontinue playing. This news prompted the decision to postpone the remaining dates of the band’s U.S. tour.

Unfortunately, similar stories of noise-induced hearing loss are all too common in an industry where an artist’s livelihood is almost entirely dependent on their ability to hear their music. According to the World Health Organization, noise at 85 Db or higher can contribute to hearing loss. This becomes particularly problematic when you consider that the average concert can easily exceed 100 Db.

In 2014, a German study on hearing loss looked at a group of 3 million individuals, including 2,227 musicians, to determine the risk of hearing disorders in professional musicians. Of the 2,227 musicians, 238 cases of hearing loss were observed. These cases included noise-induced hearing loss as well as hearing-related disorders caused by tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

The same study established that musicians were roughly 4 times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss compared to the general population.

Rock ‘n roll is far from the only culprit contributing to noise-induced hearing loss in musicians. In fact, an early study observing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra found that their classical musicians were exposed to noise levels between 79-99 Db for 15 or more hours weekly. This prolonged exposure to elevated noise levels isn’t without backlash. In early 2016, a renowned viola player sued the Royal Opera House for irreversible hearing damage resulting from exposure to sound peaking at 137 Db, which is roughly equivalent to the noise level of an air raid siren.

In a profession where prolonged exposure to loud noises is often an unavoidable hazard, there are ways to prevent hearing damage. Knowing the warning signs of potential hearing loss is vital to preventing it. These include hearing a ringing or buzzing after exposure to noise, difficulty understanding people who you recognize are speaking to you or a sensation of “fullness” in your ears. Limiting your exposure to loud noises and taking breaks throughout longer listening periods can help your ears to recover from temporary damage. Technology is also helping to prevent hearing loss, including the REV33, which eliminates the noise and distortion caused by a musician’s in-ear monitors or headphones, reducing symptoms associated with temporary tinnitus and ear-fatigue.

Remember, half of all cases of hearing loss are avoidable by taking the appropriate steps in primary prevention.